24th July 2018
London’s Chinatown was came to a standstill today, as businesses closed in a mass protest against recent enforcement raids by the Home Office. At noon, whistles signalled the beginning of a protest led by businesses and community leaders in the capital. Restaurants were shut for five hours as they marched on the Home Office in Westminster.
Restaurteurs, waiters, chefs and shopkeepers carried placards that read “Justice for Chinatown” and “No unfair immigration raids”. They marched against a growing number of raids of Chinese restaurants, which they described as the Home Office “fishing” for illegal immigrants. They claim that enforcement officers often came without warrants and were heavy-handed.
The Home Office says its officers can enter business premises under a variety of lawful powers, including when a warrant is issued, and if the authority of an immigration enforcement assistant director is given.
“Immigration enforcement visits are all intelligence-led and conducted using lawful powers,” a spokesperson said. “Officers do not conduct fishing exercises.”
As well as closures in London, other Chinese restaurants across the country shut their doors. The London Chinatown Chinese Association, which organised the walkout, said 1,000 restaurants had been in touch to show solidarity.
“The main issues we are fighting are aggressiveness, unprofessionalism of the Home Office,” said Joseph Wu, a spokesperson for the LCCA. “We feel Chinese businesses are being discriminated against and unfairly targeted for immigration raids. We are also worried about the changes to the search system. Now the Home Office can enter without warrants and it is very aggressive and threatening.”
Lawrence Cheng, secretary general of LCCA, said about 95% of businesses in Chinatown were shut. “A lot [of demonstrators] have come from the Midlands and further south. There is a lot of support. The main issues for us are how the Home Office has handled the raids. We have been very tolerant.” He said the atmosphere was good and “very peaceful,” adding, “It’s hard enough to have a businesses in Chinatown with the high rents and short staff. What we want is the government to help us grant visas for those who have overstayed their visas, so they can help build the community by paying income and tax and helping with the staff shortage.”
This month during a raid at Joy Luck restaurant, immigration officers clashed with protesting crowds.
A woman was filmed as she lay down in front of an immigration van as crowds gathered. In the video, which went viral, the van moves forward as bystanders push it back, helping the woman to crawl out of the way. The Home Office later said she was taken to hospital as a “precautionary measure” and was not injured.
A leaflet circulated before today’s protest, referring to the Joy Luck incident, asked: “Why did the raid take place after a roundtable meeting instigated by immigration officials to engage with the community and to build trust?”
It said there were serious questions about the legality of what it claimed was a “fishing raid”. “Not only were staff member at the restaurant treated with unreasonable aggression and handcuffed, a deaf and mute woman who started a peaceful protest by lying on the road was manhandled and nearly run over by an immigration van,” it said.
Another issue for restaurant owners is a lack of staff for restaurants, which they say is due to tightened immigration rules. In 2014 the UK introduced a new tier 2 immigration policy. These rules state that chefs from non-EU countries who want to work in Britain have to have a minimum salary of £30,000 a year.
The government wants Chinese chefs to be recruited from the UK but the LCCA says it takes years to teach someone about Chinese food and there is a skills shortage. Cheng said:
The number of illegal immigrants in Chinatown is unknown, but Home Office figures published in 2015 show there were outstanding fines of almost £500,000 on Chinese restaurants and takeaways after illegal immigrants were discovered working there. Difficulties between the Home Office and Chinatown have been ongoing for years. In 2013 Chinatown went into shutdown as business owners protested against constant raids, which they said left them feeling targeted.